ST. ALBERT — Local doctors have come together to push back against drastic changes made to the family medicine model in the province.
On Wednesday, a group of 72 family doctors in St. Albert and Sturgeon County published a letter in the Gazette addressed to Morinville-St. Albert UCP MLA Dale Nally sounding the alarm on what they believe to be “enormous changes” to the medical system.
The doctors say the changes will result in shorter visits with doctors and longer wait times for appointments, booking multiple visits to deal with complicated issues, and more emergency room visits with longer wait times.
The doctors are asking the government to come back to the table and work with doctors to find a solution.
One of the doctors, Bailey Adams, told the Gazette having a family doctor who can spend time with patients is important for the health of Albertans.
“It's a significant value for (patients) to be able to have a place they can come to you to talk about, you know, anything really, whether they want preventative health, they want STI screening or they are dealing with emotional trauma or abuse,” Adams said.
“Any of those things that would be missed ... if they didn't have a regular place that they could go to."
The doctor said being able to spend time building a relationship with patients builds up trust and allows for them to disclose more of their health needs.
Adams said if the government continues down this path with changes to the medical system, the result will be comparable to the Klein cuts of the '90s.
“It's taken us over a decade to try and build the system we have and to recruit the physicians that we have,” Adams said.
Adams said most family physicians, who are small business owners, will be taking a minimum of a 30-per-cent pay cut and they will not be able to spend as much time with each patient, reducing the quality of patient care. Patients who have complex needs may have to come back for multiple visits to deal with their issues.
“Our biggest concern is that patients are not aware of what's happening,” Adams said.
And the doctor said the mental toll of not being able to deliver quality of care weighs on the physicians.
“If you ask any of my colleagues in my office, what is the most upsetting about all of this? It's the fact that we can't afford to practise the way that we want to practise and keep our business open,” Adams said.
“They're taking away our abilities to provide that comprehensive care and have job satisfaction because we have to limit our time with our patients,” Adams said.
Nally said he has the same goals as the physicians when it comes to care in Alberta.
“(The government) shares the same goals as physicians: improving care for Albertans while ensuring our health system is sustainable. We have the same goal. I do not wish doctors to be taking huge cuts,” Nally said.
Nally said physicians in Alberta are compensated higher than every other province. The MLA said while doctors are saying they will be facing a 30-per-cent pay cut, the government has not been able to replicate those numbers, and says their numbers suggest it will be close to 10 per cent. Nally noted for every physician the compensation changes will be different.
Nally said healthcare is $20 billion of the provincial budget and physician compensation makes up $5.4 billion of it.
“We can't balance the provincial budget unless we bring fiscal restraint to health care. And we can't bring fiscal restraint to health care unless we control physician compensation," Nally said.
“After these changes are implemented, doctors in Alberta will still be among the highest paid in Canada.”
The MLA said his office will be reaching out to every doctor who signed the public letter to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue with them. Nally said he has met already with some of the doctors who were on the list and was disappointed to see their names present.